News & Features » Miscellany

Are the English ya ya?

Rosie Right

Those of us who occasionally feel a twinge of pride that English is becoming the world's dominant language should perhaps think again. When a language is taken over by a people whose first tongue is another language (or maybe even several languages) something strange is apt to happen.

An example is what has happened in Singapore. Here, the authorities are trying to combat a variation of English called Singlish.

Singlish takes English and mixes in a number of sounds and words from Singapore's other spoken languages, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. The result is a very distant relative of English.

According to the New York Times, this Singlish bothers the officials in Singapore. The senior minister of Singapore is quoted as saying, "We are learning English so we can understand the world and the world can understand us. It is therefore important to speak and write standard English." And Prince Charles is reported to have said, "I think we have to be a bit careful; otherwise the whole thing could get rather a mess."

Here from several Web pages about Singapore and from a New York Times article are some examples, some recognizable and some not:

Aiyah: Term to signify exasperation, e.g., "Aiyah, I'm fed up with waiting."

Blur: An adjective used to describe someone who doesn't know what's going on. To act blur is to pretend to know something.

Hepch: As in a salesgirl's question, "Can I hepch you?"

Cheem: Difficult to understand or fathom.

Chope: To reserve something. "Quick, go and chope those sets before they are taken."

Shiok: Something that gives a kick, e.g., "Inside steam room very shiok."

Skarly: Suddenly.

Ya Ya: Boastful or arrogant. "Wah, he's so ya ya!"

If you are interested in this language development, look up the New York Times of July 1 and/or visit these Web sites:

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825, ext 322), letter (1707 Summit Ave, Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail (

Add a comment